Life story

RW and Winona S. Magee Life Story

Part 1

When someone entrusts me with the story of someone’s life, it’s as if the weight of the world weighs on my shoulders, especially when it comes to an illustrious journey. That of RW Magee (1899-1985) and his wife Winona Schexnayder Magee (1911-2004) is an excellent example. Color me lucky I entered a boat laden with documents detailing their union and life together in Franklinton, courtesy of their only child Anita Magee Nicholson, wife of Dr. Steve Nicholson of Baton Rouge. Friend Anita generously lent me a valuable amount of books, with photographs and documents, including but not limited to “A Story of Olide Paul Schexnayder and Family” by Winona Marie Schexnayder Magee as told by her daughter Anita Magee Nicholson; “A Little Child Without a Church” by Anita Magee Nicholson; and newspaper articles regarding RW Magee – all of which I have used in my writing.

The significance of the Magees’ life story did not escape me, an only child and a native of Franklinton. My hope is to do it, and they, justice.

Early on – on October 8, 1899, Robert Wellington Magee was born to parents Hastings Obanion Magee (1863-1947) and Sarah “Sweetie” Rester Magee (1874-1952) near Magee’s Creek, between Warnerton and Tylertown. According to Haste, as she was called, and Sarah’s granddaughter, Anita Magee Nicholson, it was a humble start. Son of Alexander Magee (1829-1910) and Melissa/Leslie Morris Magee (1830-1907) who married on December 9, 1850, Haste was born on February 23, 1863. He was one of nine children. Daughter of John W. and Mary Jane Fitzgerald/Fitzjarrel Rester, Sarah was born in 1874.

In addition to their son Robert Wellington, also known as Willie and eventually RW, Haste and Sarah had a daughter Loney (1893-1918) with two sons Chancey (1889-1931) and AC (1891-1971), whom Haste was from a previous marriage to Susan F. Rester (1868-1892) who was Sarah Rester’s sister. Dedicated to the Lord and to each other, the family was Baptist, emphasizing God, family and education.

Willie traveled many miles to get to school for a solid education, for what would become his lifelong calling. But he began, in the early 1900s, to walk and carry a cookie or baked sweet potato for his lunch, returning home after school for chores on the family farm. After some time, the Magee family moved from the Magee’s Creek area where Willie was born to Plainview where his grandparents lived. In addition to farming, Haste found work at the Great Southern Lumber Company in Bogalusa where he was the boiler room supervisor. And the family remained devout in the Baptist faith, worshiping the Lord and attending Sunday school and church on Sundays. Willie grounded his life by joining a Baptist church in Bogalusa and becoming a Sunday school teacher.

At the age of twelve, in October 1911, Willie dressed in his best Sunday clothes to attend Washington’s first parish fair, with his family, in Franklinton. It was a fun gathering of friends and neighbors on South Main Street – my own grandparents were there, surely gathering with Willie and his family. In the fall of 1919, Willie moved to a boarding house in Franklinton so he could attend Franklinton High School where he was most interested in government and history. After graduating from the FHS in 1920, Willie planned to enroll at Baylor in Waco, Texas. Finances being an issue, the plan was for Willie to go to college, work while there, and return home to work some more to fund additional semesters.

A student of Educational Administration and Supervision and Social Studies, Willie worked hard to stay at Baylor, working in the cafeteria and doing laundry for pay. Upon his return to Louisiana, he worked in a bank and also drove a streetcar in New Orleans. This back and forth from Baylor to work in Louisiana lasted about nine years. And before graduating with a degree in science and social studies from Baylor in 1929, from 1924 to 1928 he taught school in rural Washington Parish, which brings me to his wife Winona Marie Schexnayder.

Winona was born on September 11, 1911, to Olide Paul Schexnayder (1871-1944) and Martha Alice Vial Schexnayder (1881-1950) on the Lone Star Plantation at Luling in St. Charles Parish. Olide (pronounced O Lee Day) and Martha were married on April 26, 1905. For background, Olide, the son of Elysee Paul and Aimee Becnel Schexnayder of Edgard, Louisiana, was a famous photographer in and around d’Edgard, and Martha, the daughter of Adolph and Louise Bossier Vial de Hahnville, was chosen the “most beautiful young woman” in St. Charles parish in a competition in 1899. Like their granddaughter Anita Magee Nicholson revealed in his book, the Lone Star plantation where his mother Winona was born was located “in a field of white gold” which, in southern Louisiana, refers to sugar cane. Schexnayder was a German name, then a French one, and the family was Catholic. Winona was one of eight children, born into the family although one did not survive infancy.

• Stay tuned for next week’s column, which continues with the story of RW and Winona Schexnayder Magee.

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